UK University applications for 2012 are running at 9% below last year’s level, says the UCAS admissions service, the BBC reports.
When overseas applications are taken out, the figures show a 12% drop in applications from UK students.
These are the first official application figures for students who will be paying higher tuition fees.
Universities UK cautioned that with months before the final application deadline such preliminary figures remain “unreliable indicators”.
The final deadline for most courses is January – but Oxford and Cambridge and medical school applications have now closed and these showed a 0.8% fall.
Impact of fees
The UCAS figures show applications to UK universities up to 19 October – and they will be scrutinised to find an early indication of the impact of raising fees to up to £9,000 per year for many English students – up from a heavily subsidised £3000 for resident students.
But this early evidence shows a mixed picture.
The headline figure of a 9% decline also includes an increase in overseas applications – and the drop for UK students is 12%, higher than some surveys had anticipated.
But within the UK, the drops in England and Scotland are both 12%, even though Scottish students will not have to pay tuition fees.
The figures show that about 7,000 fewer students have applied at this point compared with last year – with the biggest declines among mature and female applicants.
Applications from people over the age of 25 have fallen by more than a fifth, the Ucas figures show. Among those in their forties, the drop is 28%.
Les Ebdon, chair of the Million+ group of new universities, warned of the importance of mature students not being put off university.
“Studying for the degree people need to get the job they want in the future will be particularly important for those seeking to re-enter the labour market after losing their jobs,” said Professor Ebdon.
“It’s too early to read into these figures at the very start of the applications process,” said Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK.
But the leader of the UCU lecturers’ union, Sally Hunt, linked the fall with the sharp increase in fees.
“The government’s fees policy has been a disaster from the start and it is clearly having a serious impact on the choices young people make,” she said.
Universities minister David Willetts said an information campaign for schools and colleges about the student finance system would be extended.
“It is important that no one is put off applying to university because they do not have information about how the new student finance system works,” he said.
Toni Pearce, vice-president of the National Union of Students, said: “The indication is that the confusion caused by the government’s botched reforms is causing young people to at the very least hesitate before applying to university.”
Ahead of these preliminary Ucas figures, a survey commissioned by BBC Inside Out suggested that higher fees will put off 10% of potential students in England.
The survey of 1,009 A-Level students found most would probably still go to university despite higher fees.
But about half said they would consider selecting a university closer to home to cut living costs, or one abroad with cheaper fees. Source: BBC.
UK Universities are facing a double whammy of increased fees for resident students and relentless crackdown on Tier 4 student visas for non-EU students.
UK Universities (UKUS), the free student placement service are seeing a sharp downturn in applications from international students and overseas agents, who are choosing to study in other countries such as Australia, NZ and Canada.
The coalition government has introduced a series of immigration rule changes designed to cut the number of international students coming to the UK including: Tier 4 student visa changes 4 July 2011, abolition of post study work visa (PSW) and Tier 2 working visa restrictions.
In July the UK Border Agency has implemented significant changes to the Tier 4 student route of the points-based system order to:
- restrict work entitlements, by only allowing students sponsored by higher education institutions (HEIs) and publicly funded further education colleges to work part-time during term time and full-time during vacations;
- restrict sponsorship of dependants to those of students sponsored by HEIs on postgraduate courses lasting 12 months or longer, and of government-sponsored students on courses lasting longer than 6 months;
- require institutions to confirm that courses represent genuine academic progression from any previous courses studied by the student in the UK; and
- create a streamlined application process for low-risk nationals sponsored by Highly Trusted sponsors.
Earlier this year following the UK Home Secretary’s consultation on the reform of the student immigration system last December, the government announced a crackdown on student visa abuse and the closure of the popular Tier 1 post study work visa (PSW) next April.
Overseas students, worth £40 billion to the UK economy according to Home Office figures, are getting the message that they are no longer welcome in the UK and voting with their feet.
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